As a follow up to our previous articles of "ADA and Return to Work", the importance of having an interactive dialogue with workers who mention a limitation in doing their job, became more obvious in the Young vs. UPS case. This case is about a pregnant worker who sued UPS for not providing an accommodation for a lifting restriction she had while pregnant. This was an interesting case for a couple of different reasons - UPS already had policies in place to accommodate non-pregnant, injured employees. While pregnancy is not considered a "disability", there are many possibilities for "pregnancy-related disabilities" (such as temporary carpal tunnel, gestational diabetes, etc). So far, there is a ruling in the employee's favor, because UPS had so many workers who have been accommodated due to physical restrictions, the question became why not accommodate pregnant workers the same way? Although there was not enough evidence to indicate a violation of the PDA (Pregnancy Discrimination Act), the courts & EEOC did think this worker should have been treated similarly to injured workers. The case is back in the court of appeals at this time.
In another recent case, an employee informed her employer that she had an anxiety disorder and could not work at the front desk, interacting with the public. Instead of engaging in an interactive dialogue and/or accommodating the employee, the employee was terminated because she couldn't do her full job. EEOC said that "interacting with others" is a major life activity and therefore, if the employee is limited in this area, it would be considered a disability. To read more about this case: http://www.ca4.uscourts.gov/Opinions/Published/132212.P.pdf
A few considerations based on these cases:
- Don't dismiss an employee's request for an accommodation or their divulging of some type of work-related limitation or restriction. Have a conversation (as soon as possible!) with the employee to determine if a reasonable accommodation can be made.
- Update your job descriptions. Make sure you know the essential functions of each job and the accurate physical demands of the job. Having accurate job descriptions and physical demands will facilitate a more definitive determination when a work-related deficit does exist (regardless of the reason) and some possible accommodations or modifications to allow the worker to remain at work. This will also facilitate a quicker, safer return to work for injured workers.
- Review your policies - do they treat worker's comp differently from an injury or condition that is not work-related? Are pregnant workers treated differently when they have a restriction?
Thank goodness there are HR professionals and Employment Law attorneys in this world that can help sort all of this out! However, if you need help or more information about Job Analysis, Physical Demands Analysis, job modifications or return to work/fit for duty testing, contact Job Ready: 919-256-1400.